Response to David Orr re: Bob Dylan

I greatly enjoyed reading David Orr’s latest “On Poetry” column, in which he discusses Bob Dylan’s elevation to poet-status by the Swedish Academy. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I feel somewhat compelled to write a rebuttal, although I think I agree on many of Orr’s points. I simply disagree with the conclusions he draws from them.

To begin, since this is a partisan struggle to begin with, where one is either for Bob-Dylan-as-Nobel-Laureate, or against Bob-Dylan-as-Nobel-Laureate, I should state my own deeply ambiguous position. That is to say, I find it absolutely wonderful that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for literature, but I think the award comes several decades too late, on the one hand, and on the other hand, I can think of many more deserving bards who should probably should have received the prize before Bob Dylan: namely artists like Robert Johnson, Langston Hughes and Jimi Hendrix. My reasons for this are, just like all the decisions by the Swedish Academy, largely political, but they are culturally important as well. That is to say it’s important to honor the tradition whence the artistry comes, and Bob Dylan, by his own acknowledgment, is building largely off that tradition. In any case, this is more of a side note, as the thrust of Orr’s article was what it means to award a singer-songwriter the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it’s this argument I’m most interested in addressing.

Orr does a wonderful job of building up arguments for why song lyrics should be considered poetry, and then he deconstructs – or maybe it’s better to say he interrogates – each of those claims, and comes to the conclusion that they are all deeply problematic. The first point that he deals with is that song lyrics, when printed on a page, often look like poetry. Orr writes: “But they’re very rarely printed on a page, at least for the purpose of being read as poems. Mostly they’re printed so that people can figure out what Eddie Vedder is saying in “Yellow Ledbetter.” This is an amusing way of dismissing Eddie Vedder as a possible contender for poet, but it ignores the fact that all throughout the second half of the 20th century, plenty of poetry has been meant for performance. Spoken-word poetry is poetry; it cannot be considered anything but poetry, as it is defined by the very word. When people go hear spoken word poetry, they go to “listen to these poems.” Many spoken word poems are never written down. In fact, a New Yorker Radio Hour podcast has Bob Dylan describing the poetry of Greenwich Village street poet William “Big” Brown as “the best poetry he had ever heard.” Which leads us to the point about the Ancient Greeks. I agree wholeheartedly with Orr when he writes, “the fact that a group of people thought about something a certain way nearly three millenniums ago doesn’t seem like a compelling argument for thinking the same way today.” However, Orr’s conception of poetry is ignoring the changes that happened in poetry over the last hundred years. Street poets, spoken-word poets, and poetry as performance has changed poetry radically over the last hundred years. If poetry did not change it would become a moribund art. But Orr is describing poetry as if there have been no dramatic changes in the art form between the publication of “The Wasteland” in 1922 and today, and that strikes me as deeply problematic itself.

This leads us directly into Orr’s argument about the music. While it’s true that a song is a union of music and words, which allows songwriters to get away with even the sloppiest phrasing, Orr ignores the importance of genre in songwriting. Genres such as blues and folk music, the tradition which Dylan is coming out of, are deeply interested in language. This is something that Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown recognized very early on, and used to their advantage as “traditional” poets. Moreover, traditions like spoken-word gave rise to rap, which, beginning (arguably) with a group that defined themselves as “The Last Poets,” has often been self-consciously literary. This, again, is just another aspect of how poetry has changed over the last hundred years. To be sure, there are still plenty of traditional poets writing in the traditional words-on-page manner, but to deny that poetry has expanded beyond this is to guard an outdated conception of poetry. Changes in poetry are always met with resistance, of course. Thus, we have Peter Bayne, in 1875, writing of Walt Whitman:

The “Leaves of Grass,” under which designation Whitman includes all his poems, are unlike anything else that has passed among men as poetry. They are neither in rhyme nor in any measure known as blank verse; and they are emitted in spurts or gushes of unequal length, which can only by courtesy be called lines. Neither in form nor in substance are they poetry.

Of course, no one today denies that Whitman was a poet, and most agree he was a first-class poet; similarly, I suspect no one in a hundred years will deny that Bob Dylan is a poet. If people will not bestow the same honor on Kid Rock, it’s because Kid Rock has never fashioned himself as a poet, nor has he been interested in the poetic tradition the way Dylan has; Bob Dylan, coming out of the folk and blues traditions, publishing an (admittedly unreadable) experimental novel, and working with canonized poets such as Allen Ginsberg – and not seeming so far away from the Ginsbergian aesthetic himself – has most definitely fashioned himself as a poet, and is coming out of a very American tradition of poetry, where the line between music and poetry has blurred.

The most interesting point comes next. Orr rightly points out that by bestowing the term poet on Dylan, we are bestowing him with an honorific. Orr writes, “poetry has an unusually large and ungrounded metaphoric scope,” and this is true. Shelley told us long ago that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and suddenly everything became possible. Poetry became elevated to a level heretofore unknown, and poets have since become something like sacred priests. While I’m critical of this attitude, mostly because of the poetry-as-religion connotations implicit within it, it is nevertheless fair to say that poets, if poetry is to stay a vital art form, should remain relevant to more than just a select few, and I think poetry’s intense focus on language should be praised. So, by bestowing the honorific title of “poet” on those musical artists whose lyrics move us deeply, we are making poetry – which is to say, that close attention to language which defamilarizes the everyday and makes us look at the world anew –relevant beyond the academies and the not-very-widely-read magazines aimed at selective audiences. (read: white, college educated, upper-middle class) This is basically to say that poetry, especially good poetry, deserves the connotation of the sublime it has been awarded. Moreover, there is no confusion about where the metaphor ends and reality begins, except in the arts. As Orr admits, we all know when someone says, “that jump shot was pure poetry,” – that this has nothing to do with the creation of poetry. But any work of art containing language has the potential to challenge us, and rightly so. How do we classify Jean Toomer’s Cane? How do we classify Andre Breton’s Nadja? How, for that matter, do we classify Goethe’s nearly-unproducable Faust? As soon as language-as-a-central-concern is introduced into an art-work, the possibility of poetry arises.

Orr is right when he says Bob Dylan partly received the award because he fits the bill for the idea of a poet. This is clear enough, and this goes back to my political argument at the beginning. But just because Dylan fits the bill, well, that’s no reason to deny him the prize either. As for the prizes being awarded one-way, where musicians are recognized as poets, but poets never as musicians, suffice it to say that John Ashberry doesn’t produce albums, and so he will never be awarded a Grammy. However, Kendrick Lamar, whose To Pimp a Butterfly is built up of tracks that, line by line, develop the poem Lamar recites at the end of the album, – a poem that is unambiguously a poem, as it is recited as such, without music – did win the Grammy in 2016. Kendrick Lamar is a poet. Clearly. Just as Bob Dylan is; and I would have been delighted to see Lamar win both the Grammy and the Nobel Prize for Literature. But, then, I suspect that’s too radical a step for the Academy to take anytime in the next fifty years.

– Whit Frazier

Bleeding Past the Margin

Early in Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge, the reluctant heroine, small-time fraud investigator Maxine Tarnow, is rescued from reviewing the file of the “dim and overextended” Uncle Dizzy, a “Crazy Eddie” Antar-like fraudster, by the arrival of an old friend, Reg Despard. She considers herself, for the moment, “Saved. She puts aside the folder, which like a good koan will have failed to make sense anyway.” Of course, this being a novel by Thomas Pynchon, who is known for his labyrinthine plots that obfuscate meaning rather than illuminate it, Maxine is just putting aside one koan for another.

The koan, a brief Buddhist story or parable meant to provoke doubt and uncertainty in the listener, will make various appearances throughout the novel, whether delivered by her friend March Kelleher, a left wing activist blogger, or by Maxine’s personal Guru, Shawn, a flaky mystic with occasional moments of lucidity, who takes the place of a psychotherapist. Although the novel is already peppered with these little parables, the unmentioned koan at the center of this aggressively postmodern novel is Thomas Pynchon’s own early novel, The Crying of Lot 49, which Bleeding Edge unmistakably echoes.

The similarities between the two novels are striking: where Crying concerns the postal service and delivery of information through companies both mainstream and underground, fictional and historical, Bleeding Edge concerns itself with the Internet, and more specifically, the Deep Web, those underground networks unreachable by search engines; and where Crying follows the story of a woman who, one by one, loses the men around her to the mystery confounding her, Bleeding Edge follows the story of a woman who ultimately has to decide between losing her familial attachments, or losing herself down the unsolvable maze of mystery, which is the pseudo-plot of this information-novel.

This mystery involves an Internet company, which is run by Internet mogul,Gabriel Ice. Reg is an amateur film bootlegger who has stumbled into respectability, and has been hired by Gabriel Ice to make a film about the dotcom firm, although apparently his access to some necessary data has been restricted, and data which is impossible to find except via the Deep Web. Figuring he’s encountered a problem he needs to take to someone he can trust, he approaches Maxine about investigating the company to see what she can uncover. She doesn’t uncover much. Instead she finds herself burrowing down rabbit holes that lead to more rabbit holes that eventually lead to a possible conspiracy behind the September 11 terrorist attacks. The plot, much like that of Crying, involves not so much a solving of the case, as it does a series of introductions to a varied cast of eccentric and unlikely characters. If Pynchon is rewriting Crying for the Internet age, the question is why.

The obvious answer is that this is perfect Pynchon territory. Where the mail system allowed Pynchon to delve into the fundamentally fraudulent and corruptible network of information we receive from the media via newspapers, the radio, and even personal communication, the Internet allows Pynchon to investigate this deep paranoia in a globalized setting, where the information really is, as Pynchon puts it in Crying, “Ones and zeroes… there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.” The second, and perhaps more interesting answer, has to do with Pynchon’s approach to language in Crying, and his approach to language in Bleeding Edge. In the introduction to his book of short stories, Slow Learner, Pynchon writes,

I had published a novel and thought I knew a thing or two, but for the first time I believe I was also beginning to shut up and listen to the American voices around me, even to shift my eyes away from printed sources and take a look at American nonverbal reality. I was out on the road at last, getting to visit the places Kerouac had written about. These towns and Greyhound voices and fleabag hotels have found their way into this story, and I am pretty content with how it holds up… The next story I wrote was The Crying of Lot 49, which was marketed as a ‘novel,’ and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up till then.

If we’re to take Pynchon at his word, it seems he feels the high literary prose style he employed in Crying did a disservice to a book that’s considered so central to his vision. In tone, for all their other similarities, Bleeding Edge could not be more different than Crying. Where Crying is hyper-literary, Bleeding Edge is saturated with “American voices,” in particular those of New York City circa 2001. There are references to Britney Spears, Ally McBeal, the Jay-Z and Nas beef, DC’s old punk rock hangout, the 9:30 Club, first person shooter video games, Ben Stiller, Ben & Jerry’s, Edward Norton, and so on. The language throughout is chatty, sarcastic and smart, even when it conveys dread in Pynchon’s peculiar poetry:

They gaze at each other for a while, down here on the barroom floor of history, feeling sucker-punched, no clear way to get up and on with a day which is suddenly full of holes—family, friends, friends of friends, phone numbers on the Rolodex, just not there anymore… the bleak feeling, some mornings, that the country itself may not be there anymore, but being silently replaced screen by screen with something else, some surprise package, by those who’ve kept their wits about them and their clicking thumbs ready.

This is, naturally, the feeling at the bottom of many of Pynchon’s novels, especially Crying of Lot 49. The language here, however, is Pynchon at his most colloquial and contemporary. The colloquial, chatty American voice is one he has employed before, most notably in Mason & Dixon, which is written as oral history; but now, because it’s so close to the present moment, it’s startling. Pynchon’s novels generally deal with crucial times in American history. What makes Bleeding Edge different is that Pynchon not only tackles a time that’s very near to us, but also one that, because of its proportions, makes it a very ambitious task, especially when attempting to do so with such a relaxed vernacular.

This event, of course, is September 11, 2001. In Pynchon’s universe, conspiracy has to lie at the heart of the attacks, even if it’s only in the public imagination. The event doesn’t occur until the last third of the novel, and it seems somehow tied to the video Reg Despard is shooting, the enormous financial empire of, and the people involved in the very conspiracy Maxine is investigating. Nevertheless, we are all guilty. Maxine’s friend, March Kelleher, who increasingly finds herself at the margins of society after the attacks, posts the following on her blog:

But there’s still always the other thing. Our yearning. Our deep need for it to be true. Somewhere, down deep at some shameful dark recess of the national soul, we need to feel betrayed, even guilty. As if it was us who created Bush and his gang, Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and Feith and the rest of them – we who called down the sacred lightning of ‘democracy,’ and then the fascist majority on the Supreme Court threw the switches, and Bush rose from the slab and began his rampage. And whatever happened then is on our ticket.

In the meantime, every conspiracy theory from the early days after September 11 makes an appearance: Bush and company conspiracies, Mossad conspiracies, Corporate Capitalism conspiracies. The mystery basically remains, like all mysteries in a Pynchon novel, unsolvable. Perhaps the only thing that can be said is not to believe everything you read in “the Newspaper of Record… Out in the vast undefined anarchism of cyberspace, among the billions of self-resonant fantasies, dark possibilities are beginning to emerge.” But to remain entangled in the conspiracies, without any direction or idea of where to look, or how to go about investigating the events that occur to us, leaves us at an impasse. Either we can find ourselves increasingly distanced from our lives and our society, like March Kelleher, or we can stay suspended in a state of semi-consciousness, like Maxine Tarnow appears to be at the end of Bleeding Edge:

Maxine has a quick cup of coffee and leaves March and Tallis with a tableful of breakfast to revisit their food issues. Heading back to the apartment to pick up the boys and see them to school, she notices a reflection in a top-floor window of the gray dawn sky, clouds moving across a blear of light, unnaturally bright, maybe the sun, maybe something else. She looks east to see what it might be, but whatever it is shining there is still, from this angle, behind the buildings, causing them to inhabit their own shadows. She turns the corner onto her block and leaves the question behind. It isn’t till she’s in the elevator of her building that she begins to wonder, actually, whose turn it is to take the kids to school. She’s lost track.

It may turn out to be impossible to write an entirely satisfying novel about the Internet, and especially about September 11. Both the Internet and 9/11 involve looping webs of information and misinformation that become confused in the very visceral way they continue to impact our day-to-day lives. Pynchon has taken the shrewd tactic of writing his book as an historical novel, thus allowing himself to document the fear, paranoia, hysteria and confusion of the time, as well as the more superficial and lazy ways we’ve learned to interact with each other. In doing so he manages to write a book that at the very least won’t become dated as the technology changes more rapidly than any novelist can keep pace with, and as the theories about September 11 fall more and more into the realm of inaccurate memories and political and historical rewriting. But he has also failed to write a satisfying novel about these events, either on a personal or political level. He may not have been interested in such a novel. This is a novel full of chatter; memories, along with personal and political narratives, get lost in the thick of it.

How are we supposed to read this novel then, other than as a bizarre fraudulent, fictional documentary that employs hundreds of pop-culture references and genre nods, from the Chandleresque to the Gibsonian? In the face of a historical narrative we are increasingly more distanced from, the question of personal remembering and narrative become especially important, and Pynchon likes to leave us feeling the same impasse his characters feel. The Crying of Lot 49 achieves this end more successfully and poignantly than Bleeding Edge, which leaves us mostly with a feeling of spiritual exhaustion through an excess of chatter, and a shortage of self-determination. The characters are here one day, and gone the next, only to reappear again in different form. They die, only to reappear again as avatars; they shapeshift without warning, and apparently without even the realization that they are doing so. Self-determination is impossible.

Every schoolday morning on the way the Kugelblitz, she’s been noticing the same three kids waiting on the corner for a school bus, Horace Mann or one of them, and maybe the other morning there was some fog, maybe the fog was inside her, some incompletely dissipated dream, but what she saw this time, standing in exactly the same spot, was three middle-aged men, gray-haired, less youthfully tuned out, and yet she knew, shivering a little, that these were the same kids, the same faces, only forty, fifty years older. Worse, they were looking at her with a queer knowledgeable intensity, focusing personally on her, sinister in the dimmed morning air. She checked the street. Cars were no more advanced in design, nothing beyond the usual police and military traffic was passing or hovering overhead, the low-rise holdouts hadn’t been replaced with anything taller, so it still had to be “the present,” didn’t it? Something then, must’ve happened to these kids. But next morning all was back to “normal.” The kids as usual were paying no attention to her.

Essentially, all of Pynchon’s novels, have at their heart, the necessary human task of self-determination, a process that is inherently political – whether that be through a renunciation of political affiliations and activism, as is the case with Maxine Tarnow, or an alienating embrace of activism, which can only lead to circles of paranoia and doubt, as in the case of March Kelleher—and also inherently spiritual, as any process of self-determination requires the individual to take responsibility for her own personal narrative, despite living in an historical age when any form of communication is potentially a form of miscommunication. “Spiritual exercise,” as Maxine calls her preparation for work on Uncle Dizzy’s case near the beginning of the novel. And while Maxine is admittedly, as she herself recognizes, not the most spiritually empowered individual, she does develop by slow degrees. At the end of the novel her attitude toward the political and the spiritual is contrasted with March Kelleher’s in the aftermath of having Gabriel Ice at gunpoint. Maxine decides to let him go.

“March lights a joint and after a while, paraphrasing Cheech & Chong, drawls, “I woulda shot him, man.”

“You heard what he said. I think this is in his contract with the Death Lords he works for. He’s protected. He walked away from a loaded handgun, that’s all. He’ll be back. Nothing’s over.”

No, nothing’s over. It’s worth remembering that only forty-five days after September 11, the United States passed the Patriot Act. This Constitutionally questionable (at best) Act allows the United States Government unprecedented authorization to track phone, Internet, and wire communications, as well as unprecedented authorization to freeze and seize assets of suspected terrorists, and detain terrorist suspects, potentially indefinitely, without trial. If we look at the history of presidential doctrines since World War Two that have preceded this act, from the Truman Doctrine of 1947, in which Truman promised to help stop the spread of Communism worldwide, with military force if need be, to the Carter Doctrine of 1980, in which Carter proclaimed, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” a pattern seems to emerge, in which all these Doctrines appear to be in service of expanding the United States’ power and influence in the Middle East, with Communism as the scapegoat. In a post Cold-War world, there is no one left to fight for control of the Middle East other than the inhabitants themselves. The passing of the Patriot Act not only effectively makes any Arab a potential terror suspect, with or without trial, thus rendering them an enemy of the state, it also gives the United States the benefit of being able to actively monitor and regulate the newest bleeding edge technology, Internet communication, giving the government primary control of the way the world disseminates and receives narrative information.

That of course reads as a conspiracy theory so thick it seems to lack probability. The slimy character Windust puts it this way: “You people want to believe this was all a false-flag caper, some invisible superteam, forging the intel, faking the Arabic chatter, controlling air traffic, military communications, civilian news media – everything coordinating without a hitch or a malfunction, the whole tragedy set up to look like a terror attack. Please. My wised-up civilian heartbreaker. Guess what. Nobody in the business is that good.”

It’s the response we expect from Windust’s character, but maybe he has a point. It’s the same question Oedipa Mass, after all is confronted with at the end of Crying of Lot 49, and which she at first dismisses as ridiculous. “Has it ever occurred to you, Oedipa, that somebody’s putting you on? That this is all a hoax, maybe something Invariarty set up before he died?” But how can that be? Then again, how else to explain the inexplicable?

In the absence of any larger narrative that makes sense, where all channels of power, money, government and communication are intertwined, and the media’s attempts to untangle them seem, at best, as naïve and groping as we are, and at worst, blithely complicit, the need for a narrative that makes sense to us, either personal or political, becomes crucial, life or death. In Pynchon’s vision, this only leads us back full circle to our two examples: Kelleher, the political on the one hand, and Tarnow, the spiritual, on the other. And neither one of these women seems comfortable with where they land.


-Whit Frazier, First published in GC Advocate, November 2013


When I was eighteen years old I decided I wanted to die decadently. My girlfriend’s best friend had just moved out of her house, and her mother, a realtor, was still trying to sell it. I moved in in the meantime. It was the middle of January. My girlfriend gave me a hundred dollars. I decided I would write my memoirs as a series of elegies, and when the money ran out, I’d put my head in the oven like Sylvia Plath.

No one knew about my plan to kill myself. They thought I was a hero for running away from home and school and life to do nothing but sit in an empty house, write and smoke cigarettes. I thought I was a hero too, but for all sorts of different reasons.

I couldn’t use any electricity, because no utilities could show up on the meter of the empty house, or someone would come to check it out. Probably the cops. So I sat in that cold dark house day in day out, into the night where I wrote by candlelight, and woke up in the morning cold and distorted and hungry.

The first few nights were the hardest. I was too cold to sleep, and lots of times too cold to write. The sounds of the house settling in the January snow made the dark hallways shiver behind short gasps of candle flame. I lay out flat on the cold linoleum kitchen floor and watched the candle toss shadows from the sink and the freezer and the cabinet on my stacks of notebook paper.

The mornings were blessings. I could write all day and take long walks in the snow. One morning I realized I was no longer a part of society. I was free, and every moment of my life was felt, like I’d never thought about it before. I smoked cigarettes all afternoon, and wrote, putting the butts out in a glass filled with snow, so they would hiss. When my stomach retched from lack of food, I ran outside and watched it steam on the snow beneath where I threw my still smoking cigarette and felt closer to life and death and health and disease than I felt even to my own sense of ego.

By the end of the second week, I didn’t even feel the need to write anymore. It was wonderful. I was delirious, having conversations with shadows I called watchers who watched me while I watched back and they warned me that the dead are watchers, so watch how you live. I was warm and cold, delirious all the time, hazy, like the flame of the candle taking shadows of icicles in the kitchen window, and throwing them into my chest, all in alliance with the moon.

I was almost out of money, so I went Ice Skating one night, drunk drinking cheap red on a nearby lake and waited for the ice to crack. I walked back to the house, and grabbed the head of a snowman on the way. Back inside the house I put the head in a pan, opened the door of the oven, and told him: “You first.”

After he was finished, I drank his remains from the pan, and looked into the mouth of that oven. I got sick on the floor, and retched around for about half an hour before I fell asleep. When I woke my mother was there. I don’t know how she found me. I thought I was still hallucinating. She told me: “It’s your choice. You can stay here and write your memoirs and die, or you can come home with me and live out the rest of your life.”

I went with her, of course. The rest of my life was all I had.

-Whit Frazier, 2006

The Waterlilygardengirl


There was once a young girl who lived in a water lily garden. She would spend all day in her garden, away from the rest of the sad world, reposing in the charms of its beauty. She would bathe in the clear sapphire pool, sliding her long and slender fingers over the floating lilies, or lie amidst the soft and dreaming verdure, listening to the tender flutes of the birds. Her only companion in this strange and beautiful world was a swan named Chanticleer who would often amuse her with the most delightful conversation. They would sit and talk for hours about the joys of life, the wonder of their world and all the magic to be found in their water lily garden, so complicated and lovely, a lifetime would not be enough to talk about all its myriad nuances. They never discussed the world beyond them and they never thought about it.

But one day as they were sitting in their lovely garden talking about lovely things, a bored little cat made his way somehow into the scene. At first the Waterlilygardengirl and Chanticleer were alarmed, but when they realized that the cat was not dangerous, rather he was somewhat indolent, they welcomed him in.

“Where do you come from?” asked the Waterlilygardengirl.

“I am from the land of floating ice,” said the cat, “but I left in search of new places. I had nothing to do.”

“Did you have no one to talk with?” the Waterlilygardengirl asked.

“There was,” the cat replied,” a penguin who used to visit from time to time, but I don’t think he liked the place very much either.”

“Well you can stay here with us,” said the Waterlilygardengirl. “You will like it here.”

But the cat just yawned, looking around himself distastefully. “No thank you,” he said. “This place is the most boring place I have seen yet. Maybe I should just go back to the land of floating ice.”

With that much said, the cat turned and walked out of the water lily garden.

“Well what do you make of that!” demanded Chanticleer, who was unusually sensitive, and had taken the cat’s boredom to heart.

But the Waterlilygardengirl didn’t say anything. She had been affected by what the cat had said in a different way, and she was wondering what lay beyond her world.

“Perhaps,” she said to Chanticleer the next day, “if I try to reason it out I can figure out what’s out there without having to leave at all.”

“Leave!” cried Chanticleer in dismay, “certainly you wouldn’t just leave.”

“But if I must,” the Waterlilygardengirl said. “Because I want to know what is out there.”

“But you have never been concerned about that before,” argued Chanticleer, “and you have always been happy just staying here.”

But the Waterlilygardengirl could not be convinced. All day long she tried to discover what was in the world that lurked beyond hers and what it was like, how big it was, what other types of creatures there were; but what intrigued her most of all was the mysterious land of floating ice where the bored cat lived. At night she couldn’t sleep, and the little sleep she did get was filled up with strange dreams of the outside world and the way that it must look, although all these images just appeared to be bizarre adaptations of the water lily garden. At last, finding her reason completely helpless in the effort, she determined to leave the water lily garden and go in search of the land of floating ice.

Chanticleer was not happy to hear it. “Well I’m certainly not going,” he insisted, “and if you ask me it is a waste of time. What will I do here all by myself? Why I might end up like that troublesome cat!”

“But Chanticleer,” the Waterlilygardengirl replied, somewhat hurt, “don’t you have any desire to see what it is like out there. What if it is even more beautiful than it is here? Think of all we could talk about and delight in!”

But Chanticleer wouldn’t hear a word of it. “I think that the whole thing is silly and that’s final!”

So at last they parted ways, and many a tear was shed, although Chanticleer will insist that only the Waterlilygardengirl cried. And thus, the Waterlilygardengirl left the water lily garden.


The first thing that she saw upon leaving the garden was a landscape of trees stretching all around as far as the eye could see. There were no ponds and there were no swans and the ground was rough with sticks and stones and large plants. The Waterlilygardengirl began to walk very slowly, not quite sure which direction she should take. She was overwhelmed by the vastness of everything and she even felt somewhat dizzy. Oh, how was she to find her way back in this most cruel of labyrinths.

And yet everything was still terribly pretty! The large oak trees that anchored themselves to sky, rising in majesty on all sides of her, the blanket of leaves, a green filter of light over a sheet of serene blue sky made her tremble with ecstasy, for there was nothing that she loved more than beauty. The song of the birds was a thousand times greater than anything she had ever heard, the intertwining melodies like slow heavy drops of rain plashing in a pond. Beguiled into this lush world of prettiness, the Waterlilygardengirl wandered through the forest in a dreaming daze, one of those rare trances of imagination in which we seem to have an experience with setting. There were so many things she had never seen before and so many places to explore. Did it ever end? she wondered.

But soon night fell and it grew dark. The Waterlilygardengirl became very frightened. The moon and stars, which had always been her solace and delight at night, were obscured behind the dark and prating shadows of the leaves overhead. Heavy with terror the Waterlilygardengirl resolved to lay down and sleep away the horrible night. But nightmarish thoughts haunted her the moment she lay still enough to hear her heart beating, and so at last she was forced to keep walking, slowly through the hated night. But every sound was a fresh terror and finally, with so much fear built up within her, she began to run frantically through the chasing night. When dawn broke she was exhausted and she fell asleep.

It wasn’t until late afternoon that the Waterlilygardengirl woke up again. She looked around herself, and found that she was still lost amidst the forest, and now she had no idea how to return to her beloved water lily garden. Perhaps Chanticleer had been right after all! She tried to appreciate the beauty of the forest, but she was so distracted by all of her fears that she couldn’t enjoy anything at all. On top of that it would be night again in several hours! The Waterlilygardengirl felt very helpless. The forest seemed to her like a coffin. She pulled herself up against a great big weeping willow and started to cry. Whatever was she to do?

It just so happened that about this time the cat had been wandering the forest reflecting on how bored he was. He turned the thoughts over in his head: should I go back home? But it’s so boring there! Yes, but it’s boring here too. Well for now I guess I will just walk around a little bit more. As he contemplated these probing questions he heard someone weeping a little way off.

“Well that’s very unusual,” the cat said to himself. “Perhaps this will provide me with something to do!” And so he trotted off in the direction of the voice. It was not long before he came upon the Waterlilygardengirl, who was sitting against a weeping willow tree with her face in her palms and her hair falling all about her face and hands and shaking shoulders.

“Why if it’s not the happy Waterlilygardengirl!” the cat exclaimed with surprise.

“I’m not so happy these days as you can see,” the poor girl wept, “for I’ve lost my way in these large and scary trees.”

“Not to worry,” the cat responded brilliantly, “for I know the way back to your water lily garden- I’m quite good with direction as I have nothing better to do than wander about all the time.”

The Waterlilygardengirl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, but will you take me there?”

“Certainly. Follow me.”

“But wait one little minute mister cat,” the girl said suddenly, seizing upon an idea. “Won’t you show me the land of floating ice first?”

“I can’t imagine why you would want to go there,” the cat said, turning the idea over in his head. His friend the penguin was sure not to visit for a good long while, and some conversation might not be bad, it might even take the edge off the boredom, and so he replied after some deliberation: “but seeing how dull the water lily garden must get, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

And so the two of them went on their way to the land of floating ice.


The land of floating ice was much more bizarre than anything that the Waterlilygardengirl could have imagined on her own. The foliage was sparse and pale, jutting out of tiny crags of rocks that loomed up morosely through the water. The water itself was unlike any water the Waterlilygardengirl had known. It was a cold scintillating blue that reflected the gray indifferent sky. Large chunks of floating ice drifted through the water, and these were the only pieces of solid ground on which to stand- the larger ones were anyway. Pale and barren trees reached up like skeletons from the frigid waters and the sun, dim in the gray clouds cast a loveless and chilly glow over everything.

“This is my home,” the cat said pleasantly, “what do you think of it?” The cat was eagerly awaiting her horrified response.

“But it’s so strange,” said the Waterlilygardengirl. “Everything is dead.”

“Yes,” the cat replied.

“And yet it is very pretty.”

“Pretty!” cried the cat. “You’ve gone mad!”

“Why no,” said the Waterlilygardengirl, dazzled by the setting’s gentle death. “It mesmerizes me.” And indeed it did, for she was once again in a dreaming daze, one of those rare trances of imagination in which we seem to have an experience with setting.

“And shall we be going back to the water lily garden now?” asked the cat.

“But I think I’d like to stay here from now on,” said the Waterlilygardengirl, and her voice was just a little murmur.

The cat wouldn’t hear of it. “This is no place for someone like you. What will you do for company? I certainly don’t plan to stay here – and there’s the penguin, but he can be very disagreeable.”

Figuring he’d settled the matter, the cat turned back toward the Waterlillygardengirl and repeated: “And shall we be going back to the water lily garden now?” But the Waterlilygardengirl didn’t respond, for she was beautifully dead: pale, jagged and frozen like the trees.

-Whit Frazier, 1998


The Red Nova

Beneath the BQE, trapped in
The subway tracks elevated above
Broadway, J Train, a car yard
Of accidents already happened.

Within the car yard, survived by
No one, a Nova, crushed in,
Frowns like a bulldog’s nose, while
Stars on the Expressway fly.

– Whit Frazier, 2007

Music Lessons

Amanda makes music with her hands;
I watch her from the back of the room:
She stretches, coughs and yawns,
While her fingers fire like rubberbands.

Chloe makes music with her nose,
I watch her next to me, playing tunes:
She whistles, hums, and chirps,
And her nostrils bloom like a musical rose.

Maya makes music with her eyes,
I watch her watch like wandering blues:
She hums through pauses, gazing, glows,
And greets my song with sly surprise.

-Whit Frazier, 2004

Incomplete Octaves



If you vanish, Aurora yawns; I was startled to a pause.

“Well, go on. After all, your time is limited.”

Standing on the corner, a dark young man smiled in a way that made me frown.

I went on, but those words held me in check. What had he meant by that? Was it a threat? A prophecy?

It was too much of a delay. By the time I got to the bus station, she was gone. Aurora was really gone.

Her abandoned jacket lay jeering on my arm, and the afternoon approached gray, dull, sluggish; a pestilent congregation of vapors.

On my way back I ran into the same young man on the corner.

“You’re back,” he didn’t sound surprised.

“And with plenty of time.”

“After all, your time is limited.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Pretty much means whatever you take it for.”

“You go to the academy?”

“That’s right.”

“So, what. You a philosophy major or something?”

“Psychology. How about you?” He smiled.

I frowned.

“I bet I can guess.” He looked me up and down, a full appraisal. “Business.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You run from place to place like a businessman.”

“Well, you’re wrong. I’m a classics major.”

“So you are.”

“Well what’s your story? You just stand on street corners?”

“They call me Hector.”

“Nice to meet you, Hector.”

I didn’t volunteer my name.

“So why the classics, of all things?”

“Why not?”

“Yes, why not. Finally you’re asking the right questions.”

“Good as anything else. Why psychology?”

“Well that’s easy. It’s what I’m writing my thesis on. I study psychology because we all want to die, and I want to know why. Pascal says everything we do is distraction from death. I tend to think the opposite. Everything we do is to distract us from the horror of life, and really we’re just looking for the quickest way out.”

“Oh. Good for you.”


I thought about Hector and his gloomy thesis all weekend. It was just a distraction from Aurora. I called her as soon as I got back, I left a message. I sent her a text. The day just dragged on by. I put her jacket on my bed and lay down next to it, like she was still beside me. For a moment I was happy. The day glimmered dim against the ceiling, and the jacket and I lay draped arm in arm, and I thought about how everything we do comes out of our desire to die, and fell asleep until the sky went dark.

When I woke up, I stayed up; I thought about Aurora. I opened a bottle of wine, and listened to Thelonious and felt awkward about everything. She was harder to get a hold of than Monk’s linguistics; the moment you thought you connected with her, she was on a different wavelength. Why did she have to slip out like the sun shifts? Had she waited for me to leave before she vanished?

I’d just gone for tea; had brought back two.

Sometime late in the night, I wrote her an email, which I shouldn’t have done, because I’d already opened my third bottle of wine, and it was one of those witching hours where the night seems to stretch to no end on all sides, like a sailor lost in the rain, and no land in sight.


There was no way for her to avoid me forever. There was nothing from her Sunday, and she didn’t show up for class on Monday. I sat on the quad in the afternoon, pretending to translate Seneca, enjoying the mediocre sunshine. Before I finished Hippolytus’ first speech, a shadow came over me, and I looked up to see Hector.

“You mind if I join you?”

“I was working, but-,”

“Great.” Hector sat down and took the book from me. “Phaedra.” He shook his head. “I came here to get away from all that nonsense, but I see now how naïve I was.”

“Get away from all what?”

“Western brainwashing. I expected more from a black liberal arts college. A more nuanced view of things.”

“Where you coming from?”

“MIT, Emory, Mythology, Oxford, Reed, Yale. The stately gates of Dis. They’ve all rejected me. I don’t make friends easy.”

“You’re a real joker, huh? Maybe that’s your problem, though.”

Hector examined me for a moment. “You’re a wise one, aren’t you, Hippolytus.” He smiled. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

“Theseus. Oedipus. Achilles. Hector. Agamemnon. Odysseus. Caesar.”

“See, I like you already, Hipp. You don’t mind that, if I call you Hipp? We’re never given the names we deserve, but we try to live up to them all the same. It’s a terrible distortion of our personalities.”

“So what did you expect from a black college?” I felt like I should get back to Seneca. I scanned the Quad, hoping for Aurora.

“I’m keeping you,” Hector said after a while. “But I do this, you know. I’m pretty good at it.”

That made me smile. “You’re good at keeping people?”

Hector returned the smile. “In my fashion. I’m good at talking to people, I mean. I hold sessions. Patients. That’s what keeps getting me in trouble.”

“You mean you practice on patients? Students?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Well, no wonder you keep getting in trouble.”

“It’s not so much that I practice that gets me into trouble. The problem is that people, and women in particular, take my teachings too much to heart.”

“So you say, Socrates.”

Hector just smiled.


The first suicide was a week later. I felt electric waves just looking at the phone buzz Aurora.


“I need someone to talk to. Are you free this afternoon? A girl I know just killed herself.”


“Sophie. Do you want to get a drink?”

“Of course. Where do you want to meet?”

We met at a sleepy bar on Orchard. Aurora looked sullen. She hadn’t really known Sophie; she didn’t know why it bothered her.

“I was probably translating Dante’s suicides when it happened.” She pouted. “Sophie was one of those girls, you know the type. Everything they do is golden. She comes from society. Her father worked with the Clinton Administration. She’s always had money. She’s pretty, even white boys like her because she’s light.” Her voice shook a little. Aurora was dark.

Something about what she said made me think of Hector, and for a moment, I wondered if he’d practiced on Sophie, and this is what he meant by practice. The idea was absurd. I laughed; Aurora scowled.

“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s funny – what’s funny, I mean, is maybe she just felt disconnected. I’ve been thinking about that lately. Aren’t we a little disconnected? It’s a problem of perspective probably.”

Aurora looked at me inscrutably. “What are you talking about?”

I shrugged and frowned. “Race. Class. Culture. Perspective. What are we doing here, studying Roman literature and Greek literature and philosophy and all that jazz, isn’t that just us buying into an oppressive culture? I’ve been wondering that lately.”

“People don’t kill themselves for ideas.” Aurora sounded exasperated.

“Sure they do.”

“So go join the Black Panthers, then.” She stood up. “I really needed to talk to someone today, but all you can do is go on about yourself. You really blew it.”

She got up and left, and I just watched her go.

I sat in that bar for another couple hours and thought about our conversation, why I’d blown it, why I brought up all that stuff to begin with. Somewhere in those couple hours my thoughts turned around to Hector and his theory of death. Had I blown it on purpose? I felt so low, I could throw myself in the river. That’s what I would do. I would jump in the river. The thought made me laugh.

“A man amused by his own company is a wise man indeed, Hipp.”

Hector appeared, and took a seat next to me.

I was happy to see him. My thoughts had been turning dark, and now I needed someone to talk to.

“You hear about that girl Sophie?”

“It’s all over campus,” he said. “You can’t get away from it. Big scandal.”

“Why do you think she did it?”

Hector smiled. “Who knows? Maybe she learned the music of the seasons.”

“And what is that?”

“Each season has its own music, the way I see it. We’re always hearing it, but we can’t pick up on the tune. It’s barred from us, but that’s all a mental block. You can walk out of a window, walk into a train. You can swallow pills or dive into the river. You can always do any of these things, if you manage to learn the wavelengths of the tune. But it takes a special enlightened state of mind to learn this music. Most people never get to that level.”

“Is this your practice?”

“Listen, Hipp. I like you. Why don’t you let me come by some time and talk to you?”

I laughed a dark laugh, and dove in the river over and over. “I don’t think I need your help, Hector. I’m halfway there already.”

“The tune is more elusive than you think. After all,” Hector shrugged a little. “I’m still learning it myself.”


When I got to campus, no one knew about the suicide. I frightened people. They wanted to know how I knew. I made a few girls cry. It’s a small school, and Sophie was popular.

I walked off campus slow. I didn’t have anywhere to be. I kept seeing things funny, like spring nocturnes. Every object I passed, or scene where I appeared, there appeared a receding scale. In everything alive and everything dead; everything organic and everything inorganic. This change didn’t frighten me; it made me curious. Why hadn’t I experienced everything like this before?

Supposing I walked to Aurora’s house? The liquor made the courage compelling. I was sure to self-sabotage, it was surely a glorious mistake, like that email I wrote, but that was the point.

It wasn’t far. She lived walking distance if you were in the mood to walk, and I was in a mood to walk. I wanted to study things rearranged. I wanted to notice the architecture of the buildings, the old regal stone columns of banks, sturdy as Samson giving a push. I wondered at the slipshod shingles of houses in blue and pink and yellow, slap gashes of windows silly in the spring, and I breathed deep this pestilent congregation.

I arrived at her house just as the sun was hitting the hard part of the horizon. All the windows were open and the lights were on. Aurora was with someone. She looked upset. She kept standing up, sitting down. She got up, paced the place, she sat back down. I walked through daggers of dying sunlight for a better view.

Yes, reader, I saw him.

He couldn’t have been someone from the academy. Young enough, but pale and wan; why so pale and wan? And now we have entered somewhere else.

I walked through the door. It was open; somehow I knew it would be. For a moment I hesitated on the threshold, uninvited after all, and in a private moment. I listened to them talk. I couldn’t make out the voices, and increasing curiosity led me in.

I didn’t close the door behind me. I didn’t want to make any noise. I floated down that hall like Sugar Ray Robinson, if you stop to think, you’re gone. Around the corner and into the bedroom, where they were.

Aurora looked at me with horror.

“What are you doing here?” She probably screamed it.

“What’s he doing here?” I feinted, adding, “You needed someone to talk to, and here I am.”

The fond lover arose. “I think you should leave.”

“Perhaps,” I scrutinized him distastefully, “you shouldn’t think.”

When he pushed me, I rolled strategically back into the wall. I came forward with my right. It was a good hit, but this wasn’t going well.

“Get out!” Yes, Aurora was definitely screaming.

I left them in my wake. Into another passage, the fond lover on the floor, will looking ill prevail?

I felt ill. The liquor was making the world a wash of hymns and passages and I was getting lost. The clouds had gained the day, or perhaps it was already evening. The same bar on Orchard returned like a recurring nightmare. Hector was still there.

“Hey there, Hipp,” he said, a full appraisal. “It looks about time you retired.”


On Thursday morning there was a second suicide.

Self-slaughter is contagious. A girl named Florence drowned herself, she jumped in the river, she jumped in the river, she jumped in the river. She learned the music of the seasons.

That wasn’t an easy afternoon. All people do is talk. They never take things for what they are, they just talk them to death until they don’t mean anything. There were connections made between Sophie and Florence. Predictions as to who would be next. Sudden sages appeared everywhere.

“It’ll be Katherine, and she’ll jump down the stairs.”

“It’ll be Whitney, and she’ll drown in her pills.”

“It’ll be Phaedra, and she’ll die by the sword.”

Maybe it would be me.

After all, Aurora wouldn’t speak to me anymore. I called her that Thursday. I called her all day. I must have sent her a tome of texts.

Evening wasn’t easy, either.

One day threaded into the next. I never caught her after class. Why did she avoid me? I sat on the Quad and stared at Seneca’s untranslatable play. The more I looked at that obscure Latin text, the more it looked to me like a series of incantations.

If you vanish, Aurora yawns.

No sun now she gone.

Had I translated her symbols right? Her kisses felt like prophecies. Had I translated her kisses right? I relived the night we spent together, relived it again and again. How translate classics when you can’t even read your contemporaries?


Where’s Hector when you need him?

Hector’s absence exaggerated Aurora’s.

I started skipping class; I was hanging out in the psychology hall.

When I finally saw him again, he didn’t look so hot.

“How are you Hipp? I haven’t been feeling too well, myself.”

“Why? What’s up?”

“Let’s take a walk. We should chat.”

We walked into an overcast afternoon, muggy in the misty day, and too warm.

“Those two girls, I guess they were both psychology majors.”


“Did you practice on them?”

“You get right to the heart of things, don’t you Hipp?”

“Are you responsible?”

Hector seemed to consider this. “I don’t know,” he decided. “But I don’t see the world the way others do.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Maybe you already know.”

We walked in silence for a while. We reached the river, and walked along it without saying a word.

“Why were you looking for me?” Hector asked after a while.

“How’d you know I was looking for you?”

Hector shrugged. A shadow came over me, and the clouds seemed to descend on the water.

“I know someone you should talk to,” I said.

“I don’t think you know him all that well.”

The words threw me. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“I haven’t been doing so well lately, Hipp,” Hector paused, stopped and turned to look at me. “I was more naïve than I thought.”


“We’re in an impossible situation. I guess I knew that all along. I just didn’t understand the horror of it. Others understand it better than I do.”


“Sophie. Florence.”

“Oh.” I hesitated. “So you did practice on them.”

“I talked to them. I just talked to them. I practice on others.”


We walked for another couple minutes without saying anything.

“I live inside someone who hates me.” This from Hector. “That’s what it is.”

Why did the words feel familiar? Suddenly I was in a hurry. “I have someone you need to speak to. Someone you really need to practice on.”

“Who should I practice on, Hipp?” Hector’s voice cracked like an incomplete octave.

“She’s not a psych major. She’s a classics major. Her name is Aurora, and I need you to talk to her for me.”


That Saturday Jennifer Language swallowed pills, slit her wrists, and wandered the classics droning a drowsy syncopated tune. Our most public suicide starlet yet, she proved all the sages loons.

Administration called assemblies. Professors talked about the follies of the young & rash. Counselors offered to speak privately to students in crisis. I considered the proposition. How do you know if you’re in crisis? Jennifer was a classics major. I knew her pretty well. Did she know she was in crisis?

Aurora still wouldn’t speak to me.

I thought tragedy might put things in perspective. When I was a child, I spoke as a child.

I chased her down after class one afternoon.

We stood regarding each other curiously on the Quad.

“Aurora, this is ridiculous. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t know how many times I have to say it.”

She glared. “More times than stars in the sky, and it still wouldn’t be enough.”

“I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“The moving principle is in the man himself.”

I let her go. Why argue with Aristotle?

Zero-sum, Hector had practiced on the wrong classicist.


“I’ve been talking to Aurora.”

I looked up from Seneca to see Hector looking down at me.

“Take a seat.”

He took a seat and took Phaedra. He flipped through it listlessly. “It’s a play about finding a tune.”

“I think you missed the point, if that’s what you get from it.”

“You probably read it as tragedy, when really it’s a comedy.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. What could a psych major know about these things anyway?

“So when did you start with Aurora?”

“Last weekend. She’s a good listener.”

“You seem to be pretty persuasive.”

“It has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the student.”

“Well, how’s she coming along?” I hesitated. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“No, it’s not. I may learn a thing or two from her myself.”

Now what did that mean? I didn’t like my thoughts.

Days passed, and I lost Aurora in students bursting from classrooms into spring. I hung around in her cloud. Hector vanished from the Quad.

Where did he conduct these meetings of his anyway? I walked around downtown and looked at the buildings. One of them housed a lunatic. Talk to someone if you’re in crisis. Who would talk to Hector?

I could hear Hector and Aurora echo behind everything.

Who would talk to me?


I would follow her, of course.

I would have to watch for her. I couldn’t get left behind in the rush of the bell, so I didn’t go to class. I drank at the bar all morning, and drank down half the afternoon. A little before class let out I walked up to campus, and waited, hidden behind pillars, simple as Samson shrugging a push.

Aurora walked out gorgeous as the day. She descended the steps to the Quad. I slipped after her, shadow of a suicide. We hurried past circles of students splendid in the weather. Off campus, then, and passing by the bar where I’d just been. She turned the wrong corner, and so she wasn’t going home.

Did he hold court on street corners like Socrates?

No, Hector, coward, only held court on women, and maybe he broke hearts. He would have a room somewhere. There lay the secret science of his teachings. Try his technique on a man, and he’d end up with a broken jaw, or worse, dispatched; you want to learn the music of the seasons? I’ll teach you, and quick. ‘Til you spit blood with murder ballads!

It made me mad. I almost forgot myself, got caught. I was walking too fast, and getting careless. Aurora walked down Portland. We were headed toward the river. Cover was getting sparse. I had to hang back, Aurora now just a hint on the horizon.

An inclination arose in me to call out to her. The proper thing to do was to warn her.

Another figure wavered pale and dim in the distance. Surely it was Hector, and we will have our conclusion.

“Apparently you’re a man of little faith, Hipp.” This from behind me. I turned to see Hector stalking a saunter in the sun.

Dumbfounded, I stood and stared at him, then turned to see Aurora, persistent doom, hand in hand, vanishing beyond the horizon. I looked at Hector and tried to speak, but words collapsed. Hector’s eyes were light, was he possessed?

“You probably think I’m following you.” He smiled. I frowned.

“Of course you’re following me.” I looked back to scan the empty landscape of the river. “Who – who is she meeting?”

“I think you already know the answer to that, Hipp.”

Suddenly I was furious. “Who was he? How? How could I know the answer to that?” I moved to strike him, and just as I did the sun revealed itself from behind the clouds like a hidden God.

Hector’s cheeks were wet. Tears seemed to complement his smile. “I have a confession.” The sincerity of his tone was disarming. “You see, I’ve finally found the tune. It’s why I’m here.”

I looked from Hector to the river. Now I was smiling. “I’ll race you.”

For a while neither of us spoke. I listened for the shrill of laughter to slice the still afternoon.

“I love her, Hipp.” Hector frowned. “And it’s more elusive than your philosophy.”


There have been no more suicides since, except Phaedra’s. I finished my Seneca translation within the week.

Still, I’ve never been able to shake that sunny afternoon. It confronts me even in my dreams, where Hector and Aurora continue to make appearances.

I sometimes wonder where Aurora went, and if Hector is alive. I look out over the Quad, and it feels like no time ago, almost like they remain here, now that all my context is cuneiform.

As for Hector’s philosophy, I try not to see the world that way anymore; I focus on my studies. That’s not to say it doesn’t stay with me, because it does. It hums below my surface, like the sun rising in the east each morning, carrying in its swansong, a promise.



-Whit Frazier, 2013


“If you don’t like it, why did you order it?”

“Who said I didn’t like it?”

“You don’t like it. I’m looking right at you. I can tell.”

“Jesus, Jeremy.”

“If you don’t like, just say you don’t like it. Hell; I’ll eat it.”

“Listen, Jeremy. I ordered the Codfish, and I’ll eat the Codfish. They put some kind of sauce on it or something. Doesn’t taste like the way I’m used to.”

“What did you say?”

“I said their codfish doesn’t taste the way I expected. But it’s fine, baby. Jesus, I’m eating it.”

“Codfish? Baby, that’s not codfish, it’s catfish. You ordered the catfish, not the codfish. Listen. It’s an easy mistake. You want me to eat it?”

“Jesus, Jeremy. I’m eating it already. Will you let me alone?”


“Anyway, look. Look! Right here, on the menu, it says clear as day, codfish in wine sauce.”

“You just have to be right, don’t you?”

Jeremy looked away from Lucy, and out through the large rectangular windows to his left. The snow was coming down a little harder, and blowing in wide circles. “Listen,” he said after a while. “This is a stupid argument. Let’s get out of here. Mine isn’t that good either.”

“If you don’t like it, why did you order it?”

“Jesus, Lucy, let’s not start this again, okay?”

Lucy didn’t say anything.


Lucy looked away from the table and frowned.

“Fine.” Jeremy stood up, and his napkin tumbled from his lap onto the red tablecloth. He put down a credit card. “I’m going. Go ahead and pay with that. I’ll catch up with you back at the apartment.”

“Where are you going?”

“For a walk.”

“Jesus, Jeremy, what do you mean you’re going for a walk? It’s twenty degrees out there, and look at it. It’s snowing like crazy.”

“I like the snow.”

“No you don’t. You’ve never liked the snow.”

“I do now.”


Outside, the snow came down in wet drifts, and stuck against Jeremy’s coat. He walked all the way down Park Avenue from 62nd street to where Park met Union Square. By the time he got downtown he was warm, if wet, and he even felt happy; the little bit of wine he’d had with dinner made the streetlights glow warm with the shoplights. The feeling made him want another drink, a brandy or cognac, so he ducked into a café off 12th Street.

It was quiet and empty in the café. There were several marble tables spread around, orange lights decorating the walls, and a Bach fugue playing low in the background. Jeremy sat down, and when the waitress came to the table he ordered a snifter of Remy-Martin along with the day’s paper. He looked outside at the snow, and thought about Lucy.

“Here’s your paper, sir. I hope the Times is okay.”

“The Times is just fine, thanks,” Jeremy said, turning from the window, and looking at the waitress. She was tall, dark haired. She had green eyes, a kind of exotic look. She looked like she might be Mediterranean. “Any articles you recommend? I haven’t had a chance to look at the paper today.”

“Well, I don’t know what your interests are…”

Jeremy smiled at her, a warm, sly smile. “The same as yours,” he said.

The waitress laughed, and took the paper back. She opened it. “Well,” she said, “if you’re into books and all that-,”

“I’m a writer.”

“You’re a writer? Really?”

“Pulp novels.”


“Well, when you say it like that, you make me feel self-conscious about it.”

“You don’t write great literature?”

Jeremy laughed. “Sure I do! And you?”

“Well, I like to read.” She handed the paper back to Jeremy, opened to the book section. “There’s a great review of Kimble’s new novel.”

Jeremy winced a little. Fucking Kimble. “No kidding? What’s the review say?”

“Well if I told you, I’d spoil the fun of you reading it for yourself. Have you heard of him?”

Yeah, Jeremy had heard of Martin Kimble all right. He’d even met him one night, at a book release party for another author. Jeremy had always been sort of ambivalent about Kimble’s writing. Great character writer, but his plots felt contrived. Wasn’t that the problem with lots of literary fiction? How to write great characters, a gripping plot, and keep your book literary, for whatever that meant. At the book release party Kimble was wildly drunk, and Jeremy caught up to him in a staircase. Kimble was smoking a joint. When he brought up his concerns with Kimble that night in the stairwell, Kimble frowned a bloated, ugly frown. Kimble was a big man, with a fat frame, and a fat face to match. Balding brown splotches of hair on his head, and clear indications in the lines of his face that all the years of hard drinking had taken their toll. His eyes were sharp, but dead. The guy looked jaded. And then he frowned that bloated, ugly frown and his face went into all sorts of contortions, like he was working something out in his head.

“Aren’t you Jeremy Cole?”

“You’ve heard of me? You even recognize me? Well, shit. Wonders never cease!” Jeremy had intended this to be a friendly way of beginning shop talk with Kimble, but Kimble’s frown just deepened, and he said:

“My plots feel contrived?”

“I didn’t mean it like that; I was just asking -,”

“And this from a writer of Pulp Mysteries or whatever the hell you write?”

“Jesus, Mr. Kimble, I was just saying –,”

“You’re a fucking hack. And you’re telling me how to write literary fiction? Hey, I don’t judge you for what you do. Whatever sells your writing, I guess. But don’t come to me, a fucking Pulp writer, and tell me I can’t write a decent fucking plot. The audacity of you fucking people.”

And that was that. Kimble had sauntered off, throwing down the roach of his joint, and walked back out into the ballroom, leaving Jeremy standing there a little embarrassed, ashamed, and angry. He slipped out into the ballroom, grabbed his coat from the coat check desk, and hailed a cab on West Houston. When he got home, he told Lucy about it, and she said, “Well, you can see why he’d be upset.”


“Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” Jeremy told the waitress. “A good writer. Writes exceptional characters.”

“I think so too,” she said.

“Good review?”

“Like I said, go on and read it.”

Jeremy looked down at the paper. He’d heard about Kimble’s new novel. He hadn’t read any reviews of it yet, and he certainly hadn’t read the book itself, or anything about it; he’d been ignoring the book. “Reaching the Ideal through the Vulgar” He looked up from the paper. The waitress was standing over him, bent slightly forward at the waist, eyes focused on the paper.

“You have read the article, haven’t you?” Jeremy asked her. “I don’t want to take your copy of the paper if you were reading it.”

“Oh, I’ve read it a bunch of times,” she said. “I think it’s fascinating.”

Jeremy looked back at the paper, and kept reading. He was skimming mostly. The first paragraph was a quick description of Kimble’s previous work, the second a three sentence summary of the book’s plot – just tell me if you think it’s good or not, Jeremy thought, impatient flying down the page. Nothing committal. The review seemed kind of mixed.

He’d read it a little later.

“Have you read the book?” he asked, looking back up at the waitress.

“Sure I have,” she said, and her voice changed perceptibly, like she was talking very low to someone very far away, and she lost focus of the paper and smiled. “I’ve read everything by Martin Kimble.”

“You must be quite a fan!”

“Well, naturally,” she said. “I’m his fiancé.”


When Jeremy returned to the apartment, slightly drunk, a little happy, a little melancholy, and with a definite lurch to his step, Lucy was still up. She was sitting in bed reading. He came into the bedroom, and she looked up with a weary displeased grimace. Jeremy said as jovially as he could, “What’cha reading?”

Lucy closed the book, and put it down. “Naturally, you’ve been out drinking.”

“Do you know,” said Jeremy, kicking off his shoes by the heels without untying them, “who I met tonight?”

“Jeremy, you haven’t been yourself lately. Do you even realize how rude it was to walk out on me at dinner tonight? How embarrassing in front of all those people. The waitress looked at me like I was breaking her heart. She gave me a ridiculous discount and everything, she felt so bad for me. And then that sympathetic look. Oh God, how humiliating, like the girl stuck in the bad relationship everyone has to feel sorry for. I can just hear her now to her friends! Oh this poor woman. She really needs to get some self-esteem and leave him. Ugh!”

“Who is ever themselves?” Jeremy mused, coming over and sitting next to Lucy on the bed. He brushed back her hair. “After all, I left you my American Express. It’s everywhere you want to be.”

Lucy smacked him with a pillow. “You’re lucky I didn’t just take that card and fly to the Bahamas or something.”

Jeremy laughed. “Besides, never mind waitresses. You can’t stay mad at me, can you? Listen, Lucy. You remember that night I met Martin Kimble.”

Lucy laughed a smack of a “Ha!” and said, “How can I forget? Your great humiliation!”

Jeremy frowned and straightened up. “Well, I met his fiancé tonight.”

“Oh, really?” said Lucy. “How does she look?”

“She’s pretty. Not much my type, but she’s pretty.”

“Prettier than me? He didn’t one up you there too, did he?”

Jeremy eyes went dark, and he muttered, “Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been drinking tonight.”

“What do you expect me to do when I’m sitting here all night wondering where you went? Where did you go?”

“I went to this café downtown. The waitress was all about Martin Kimble. In the end it turns out she’s his fiancé.”

“Small world.”

“It really is. She’s a lot more pleasant than he is, I can tell you that. And his new book…”

Lucy laughed. “You mean, CUNT?”

Jeremy smiled back at her. “Yeah, CUNT. Actually the review in the Times seemed sort of mixed. They did say it’s his best work in a while.”

“They always say that. Personally, I can’t stand the title alone. Makes me not want to read it.”

“Well, I’m glad we’re finally back on the same side.”

“Who said I was on your side? It’s a nasty little title. I don’t know why men write books at all. Men are too crude, stupid and insensitive to write books. If only women wrote books, there would be a lot more quality literature out there. I’ll tell you that much.”

“So why don’t you write a book?”

“What do I know about writing a book? I’d have to study it and all that. Besides, words are so… so imprecise. I work with numbers; I’ll stick to numbers thank you very much. They have their own music.”

Lucy was a statistician. It was the best way to describe her. Jeremy met her six years before at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. He’d been in the café doing research on a crime novel, and he ended up staying there the whole day, from morning ‘til night. Right up by the giant bay windows, with the sun coming in on a cold November morning, made warmer with his coffee, the café and the sun covering him in a lazy blanket. It was something he did often while doing research for a new novel; he’d spend all day at the café, come home, look over his notes, and then spend the evening at home writing. In the morning the place was pretty empty and quiet, and this was the best time of day to be there. By noon, the daytime crowds and NYU students began to fill up the place; by late afternoon, the entire Barnes & Noble was loud and crowded, and there was no way to be left alone at his prized bay window table. Once all the tables were filled up, people would sit across from other patrons at the same table. Sometimes people would sit at the bay window table with him even if there were other open available tables in the café, but there was too much good research material to do the work anywhere else.

On this particular November day, Jeremy was taking a break from his research to read through the paper. It was around one in the afternoon, and there were surprisingly, a couple tables still open. The sun was starting to brighten through the large bay windows; usually it hit full force around 2 or 2:30 this time of year. He was in the middle of an article about a kid who had been shot the night before in Brooklyn when a young, slightly plump woman in a purple shirt sat down across from him. She had a light copper complexion; he thought she might be Hispanic, maybe Arabic. He screwed up his face, annoyed, and then scanned the café, confirming to himself that she’d sat down at his table when there were other open tables available.

“I hope you don’t mind if I sit down for a minute,” she said. “It’s just for a minute. I’m on my break from lunch, and I wanted to sit and read this article. I come here sometimes to do that.”

Jeremy shrugged and looked back down at his paper. The girl moved her plate in front of her, and picked up what looked like a turkey sandwich. She took a bite, took a drink of juice, and darted her eyes quickly up and then quickly down. She repeated this a couple times. After a number of times, Jeremy looked up at the jerk of her chin, and their eyes met. A long, awkward, annoyed moment passed, and then she said:

“Are you reading about the boy who got shot last night in Brooklyn?”



There was another long silence, and now the awkwardness of it was a tangible presence at the table, almost like another person. He continued reading, but every word stuck to the page, and lost its life. He couldn’t concentrate.

He looked back up at her. Her eyes hadn’t left his forehead. “Why? Did you know him?”

“No,” she said. “But I heard about him.” Pause. “Did you know that last year there were six hundred sixty four murders in New York City?”

“I did not.”

“Six hundred sixty four. Can you imagine that? That’s fifty-five point three three three three three three murders every month.”


“But -!” she said triumphantly, “compare that number to ten years earlier: Two thousand two hundred and forty-five murders. All in the one year! Unthinkable. Do you know how many murders that is a month?”

“No, not off the top of-,”

“That’s one hundred and eighty-seven murders every month. It’s like genocide!”

“It sounds like a lot.”

“Well, that’s the record. For all time. It never got worse than that, but still.”

“But still. Indeed.” Pause. “Isn’t all this just a little but morbid?”

The girl shrugged. “I’m not the one reading an article about a kid that got shot in Brooklyn.”

Jeremy laughed. “Is that how you always begin your conversations?”

“It’s an icebreaker.” Pause. “Of sorts.” Pause. “Hi. My name is Lucy.” She stuck out her hand. Jeremy looked at her, with her hand outstretched, and her smooth pretty face, hickory eyes, and cool smile. He liked her.

“Jeremy,” he said, taking her hand. “Jeremy Cole.”

“That’s what I thought.” She blushed. “I mean, that’s partly why I sat here, I hope you don’t mind. I thought you looked like him, but then celebrities never look like they do in their photographs.”

“Celebrities?” Jeremy smiled, and did a wide glance around the café. “Where? Who?”

“Oh, don’t be modest. I love your books.”

“To be honest, I didn’t know I had any other readers than me and my mother.”

Lucy laughed so suddenly that she hiccoughed on her juice. “Don’t be silly.”

“If you saw my sales…”

“I’d like to,” she said. “I mean, it’s not that I’m crazy; statistics. That’s what I do.”

“No kidding.”

“Crime statistics for the Bureau of Justice.”

“Now that could be interesting.”

“It is. It really is.”

“How did you get into that?”

“It’s a long story. I’ve always been fascinated by this stuff. By books like you write, too. All of it.”

“You work near here?”


“No kidding. Why don’t you let me buy you a drink after you get off work? You can tell me all about it.”

“You’ll still be here?”

Jeremy smiled at her. “Yeah. I’ll still be here. Meet me right back here. I’ll save your spot.”


“Well, you used to like my books,” Jeremy said. “Anyway, I’m sorry about tonight. I’m sorry I stormed out.”

“Here’s your card,” she said. She leaned over to the night table, and gave him his American Express card. “You’re a bastard thinking leaving that with me made everything all right.”

“Well, I didn’t think that. But you needed to pay for dinner, and money to get home, and listen: can’t I just say I’m sorry.”

“Yes; apology accepted.”

Jeremy paused. He didn’t know how to word the next question without it coming off as crass:     “You didn’t make any extra purchases did you? Not that I care if you did, you know. Just to balance my books is all.”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” Pause. She smiled. “You don’t deserve one, but I bought you a gift.”

“Oh, Lucy. You shouldn’t have. After I behaved so badly. You didn’t need to do that.”

“Oh, yes I did.” She picked up the book she’d been reading from the other side of the bed. It was a brand new hardback copy of CUNT.


Cunt, indeed.

When Jeremy was thirty years old, he wrote a crime novel called Trumped. He’d written several long novels before that; literary novels, he supposed, but they felt stodgy to him. He let them sit. He spent the two years prior to writing Trumped depressed, unable to do much of anything. He flitted from one temp job to another. He wrote a couple short stories. He drank too much. On his thirtieth birthday, he decided to give up writing. It demanded too much of him, and besides, what was the point? Entertainment? His novels weren’t entertaining; not really; not like a good thriller. To enlighten and instruct? Why not just write essays? What was the point of writing fiction? A man who couldn’t talk straight wasn’t much of a man, anyway; if you had something to say, by God, say it. And then he’d find himself concocting plots to fit into ideas; it felt silly. There was no money to be made writing; it didn’t help him to meet people, oddly enough, it sort of had the opposite effect. Ultimately, the whole experience was a bloodletting. You spent time and energy writing, got giddy and lightheaded in the process, and when it was all over, you got nothing but a feeling of being tapped and drained of your physical and emotional resources.

But one night, coming home on the subway he overheard a couple kids on the train talking about the circumstances surrounding a murder. Each person was telling the story in a different kind of way – each of them jumping in over the other, and the story developed a kind of untellable layered mystery. So that when Jeremy got home that night, he sat down and started writing the story of a kid shot over a dice game in Brooklyn. It was told from multiple perspectives, but with a tight, fast, gripping pace. He finished the novel in three months easy, and at the end of those three months, he had Trumped. He sent it off to a publisher, and they accepted it right away.

Jeremy Cole had found his calling.

Cunt, indeed.


The next night Jeremy went back to the café where he’d met Kimble’s fiancé. It was cold, and yesterday’s heavy snow lay thick on the city in large black hills of ice and weeping white trees. He had his copy of CUNT with him. He tried to get out before Lucy came home from work, but she walked in just as he was throwing on his coat.

“Where are you going?”

Looking around, Jeremy grabbed Kimble’s book from the night table, and said, “I’m going to go start reading this thing. Figure I’ll duck in somewhere for a drink, and see if this guy’s all he thinks himself to be.”

“Will you be long?”

“That all depends on Kimble,” Jeremy said, smiling, and giving Lucy a light kiss. “I don’t know. You were reading it last night. What did you think?”

“You know my taste,” she said. “The guy bores me to death. I hate these pretentious literary authors.”

It was cold all right, but Jeremy found some warmth in those words of hers, as he walked the long way from the Upper East Side downtown through the slick slush of New York sidewalks. And the warmth and encouragement he got from those six simple words of hers – I hate these pretentious literary authors – made him feel guilty that he was going to see another girl.

Going to see another girl. Now that was an interesting way of thinking about it. Why, exactly was he going back to see this girl, whose name he didn’t even know, a girl engaged to a rival author who didn’t think of Jeremy Cole as anything but a hack pulp novelist, let alone a rival. What was it about her? Maybe that exotic, Mediterranean look. He’d always been attracted to dark exotic girls. It was the same thing with Lucy. There was something mysterious about an exotic looking girl, and smiling, there was nothing he liked more than a good mystery.

“You’re back,” said the waitress as he walked into the cozy little café.

Jeremy took off his coat and draped it over the chair. He flashed the book. “Figured I’d do a little reading.”

“Oh, no kidding!” she said. She took the book from him and turned it over in her hands a couple times. “You’re gonna love this thing, I promise.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“You said you were a writer too, didn’t you?”

“Pulp novels.”

“That’s right.”

Jeremy forced a laugh. “Not great literature.”

“Well, have I heard of you?”

Jeremy hesitated. Had she? It was a good question. Kimble had heard of him. Certainly it was possible his fiancé had too. Especially since she was a reader. For the moment, he knew more about her than she knew about him, and that was an advantage. Giving away his name might change all that. Still…

“Jeremy Cole.”

The waitress paused, thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.” She frowned. “I’m sorry. There are so many writers, and -,”

“Please, don’t apologize. Very few people have heard of me. I don’t take it personally at all.”

“Well, Mr. Jeremy Cole,” she said, holding out her hand. “My name is Maria.”

“Pleased to get to know you, Maria.”

“Likewise.” She handed the book back to Jeremy.

“Is this your favorite?”

“Of course. Everything new he does is my favorite. You know, they say a writer is only as good as his last book.”

“Is that what they say?”

“Are you working on anything now?” she asked.

This was a sore point for Jeremy. He hadn’t been at work on anything for a while. He’d hit a writers block that set in early the year before, and had lasted all the way through the year, dragged on through the holiday season, persisted through the new year, and left him here, in mid January, more than a year later, still with nothing to say. He’d tried everything he could think of to break the spell, but nothing worked: he read crime and pulp novels voraciously; he read the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Daily News, even the New York Press almost entirely, looking for ideas that might inspire him. Nothing. The problem was, as best he could assess it, the mystery had gone out of it. When he started writing Trumped, the act of writing had been as much a mystery as the story itself. Now everything seemed so easy, so technical, like a job you’re just by nature good at. He didn’t want to say formulaic. Forty-two years old, and he was finished! Dante started the Comedy at forty-two. What had he done, but write a handful of pulp novels, and find himself stuck dead in the Second Circle of Hell?

“Yes, actually I am.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Oh, well… you must know how writers are about works in progress.”

Maria smiled. “Yeah, yeah. Martin’s the same way. I never get to know anything about what he’s writing until he’s finished. Where do you write? At home?”

“Cafes, usually.”

“Do you have a favorite?”

“Barnes & Noble. Union Square.”

“Well, that’s nice.”

“Where does Martin go to write?”

“He writes in his study.”

“Ah; lucky enough to have a study in New York City!”

“Why don’t you do your writing here?” asked Maria.

“And abandon the old B&N?”

“Every writer needs a change from time to time. You know, keep the inspiration fresh. When you need a break you can talk to me.”

“Well, maybe you have something there.” Pause. “I kind of like this place. It’s quieter here too.”

“Well, then, there you go. Besides, I want to know what you think of Martin’s book. You can keep me updated.”


Jeremy found that spending his days at the café with Maria brightened his life considerably. For one thing he was finding it easier to write. For another, it gave him something to look forward to in the daytimes, with Lucy out at work. He would write a little, chat with Maria some, read a little, and continue writing. It was much nicer than writing at Barnes & Noble, where he would inevitably end up sharing a table with a stranger, and where he had the distraction of the growing crowds as the mornings became afternoons, and the afternoons evenings.

He was even enjoying Kimble’s novel. Sure, it was a little too literary, too many references, and asides into highfaluting ideas, but all in all it wasn’t such a bad read. Mostly, he tried to see what about Kimble as a writer impressed Maria so much.

After a week of going to the café every day, he came in one morning, sat down and Maria greeted him beaming.

“Hello, Mister Writer. Guess what?” she said.

“Oh, I don’t know. What?”

“I bought one of your books.”

“No kidding? Which one?”

“It’s called Trumped.”

“My virgin.” Jeremy smiled. “Have you started it?”

“I have,” she said, “and I don’t know why you said you don’t write great literature. I knew you were just being modest. That’s why I went out and bought it.”

Trumped? Great literature? You’d be the first person to say so.”

“Oh, I doubt that. When I’m finished with it, I’m going to have Martin read it. You’ll see.”

Jeremy coughed.

“I bet you he’ll like it.”

“Have you… have you mentioned to him that you met me? That I’ve been coming to the café every day for the past week?”

Something sad and strange flashed in Maria’s eyes. Then she smiled. “I don’t tell Martin everything, you know.” Pause. “Listen. I should get back to work. Talk to you in a bit.”

Jeremy tried to say something as she turned to go, but his mouth went dry. What exactly did she mean? He felt a sense of relief she hadn’t mentioned him to Martin, but at the same time, a sense of dread that she eventually would. His head felt light. It’s not like there was anything going on between him and Maria. They’d just met a week ago. What – a man can’t come to the same spot to read and write everyday? He can’t develop a harmless friendship with his waitress? So why did he feel guilty, and why did he feel this sense of dread? He picked up his copy of CUNT, and looked at Martin’s picture on the inside jacket. That smug fuck. There he sat, in a loose jacket, a striped button down shirt, top couple buttons opened, and that same fat face, smiling back at Jeremy, as if to say: You will never have my life.

What would Martin say, when Maria mentioned she’d picked up a copy of Trumped? He could hear Kimble now, “By Jeremy Cole? What – that hack? He couldn’t write his way out of a brown paper bag. Matter of fact, I met him once, and you know what he had the audacity to say to me…?”

He closed the cunt, and put him down. He took out his notebook, and read through the last few paragraphs he’d written. Then he opened Kimble’s book again, and read a couple paragraphs at random. Certainly different styles; but then, both paragraphs were out of context. He couldn’t compare them. He went back and read the first paragraph of his draft, and then the first paragraph of Kimble’s book. He reread them. Kimble’s prose felt lighter. He read over his own first paragraph again. Maybe he was just too used to his own style. He read Kimble’s first paragraph. Fuck Kimble. His was a draft – a first one at that. Kimble’s was a finished product.

“What are you up to now?” said Maria, swinging back by his table.

Jeremy looked up at her, and said: “just writing.”

“Well, don’t let me interrupt.”

“No – not at all. You’re not interrupting. As a matter of fact, I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to reread the first paragraph of Trumped. Do you mind?”

“What an odd thing to ask. Do you know that Martin memorizes the first paragraphs of all his stories? He even has entire short stories of his memorized.”

“No kidding.”

“No kidding. Anyway, hold on. I’ll be right back with it.”

Fuck Kimble. Entire short stories memorized. Well, what’s the point of that? He could memorize entire stories if he wanted, but who could bear to walk around with their own expired voice constantly in their head? It was enough to remember short passages, phrases, worse yet reading old material. Maybe he should have stuck with his literary writing. He gave up on it so young; too soon. He suddenly had a desperate desire to pull out one of his old literary manuscripts, and read it over.

Maria came back with Trumped.

“I love how you begin this book,” she said, as she handed it to him. “It’s a beautiful paragraph. Martin would say the same. I know what he likes.”

A feeble smile. “That means a lot coming from you.”

“Do you want me to leave you with it for a little?”

“Thanks, Maria. If you don’t mind too much, that would be great.”

Jeremy watched Maria as she turned and walked to the back. You will never have my life.

He turned Trumped over, read the blurb on the back, read a couple review blurbs, all pretty good. People really connected with this book. No one ever connected to one of his books again like they had Trumped. It really was an inspired work. He opened it up, and looked at the picture of him, ten years younger, smiling, idealistic, happy. He flipped past the opening pages to the first chapter. Reading the first paragraph again, he was impressed. It was pretty good. He put it down, and reread Kimble’s first paragraph. Sure, Kimble was a more mature writer, but Trumped was written by a thirty year old man. Kimble hadn’t even been published yet. Jeremy chuckled. He put Kimble’s book to the side, and moved Trumped to the side, and he opened his notebook. Maria was inspiration. After six years with Lucy, tired and bored of his life, tired and bored of his own writing, and battling age and a growing inferiority complex, along came Maria, and changed everything. He tested out a couple sentences. He could feel the clarity in his head again; the words were coming naturally. Sentences appeared like incantations. Paragraphs. There was magic to literature, and he’d recaptured it.


For the next several weeks Jeremy went to the café daily. He spent the evenings and weekends with Lucy, but every weekday he spent all his time with Maria. It was the only time he was happy. The rest of the time he felt like he wasn’t even living his life. Like he was living a past life, one that he needed to shake off completely. Things hadn’t been well between him and Lucy for a while, but now they were getting worse.

“Jeremy, are you having an affair?” she’d ask, again and again, usually after lovemaking.

“An affair? What an imagination you have. And I’m supposed to be the writer.”

Then he’d turn over and go to sleep, dreaming of morning, when he’d be able to walk down to the café in the cold February wind, and see Maria again.

“What are we going to do on Valentines Day?” Lucy asked him one night, as they were lying in bed.

Valentines Day! It had completely slipped his mind.

“What’s today?”

“Jesus, Jeremy. It’s the ninth. If you had a job, you’d know these kinds of things.”

“A job! I have a job, Lucy, I’m a writer.”

“How has that been coming anyway? Any better?”

“Actually it has.”


“In the last three weeks I think I’ve written almost thirty-five thousand words. It’s coming along incredibly well. I’ve been getting a lot of reading done too.”

“Oh yeah? What’re you reading?”

“I’m reading that book you gave me by that bore of an author.”

Lucy laughed. “Kimble’s book? You are still reading Martin Kimble’s latest novel?”

“Well, why not? You bought it for me.”

“Why not! Why not, indeed.” Pause. “So, what do you think?”

“It’s not bad, actually. I’d even go so far as to say it’s pretty good.”

“I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“I might not much care for the man, but I’d like to think that as a reader, I’m pretty good about being objective.”

“Whatever you say. That’s not the Jeremy Cole I know.”

“Well maybe you don’t know Jeremy Cole.”

It was the wrong thing to say. This was the first real conversation they’d had together since he started going to the café, and as soon as he said the words, he regretted it. He watched the lines in her face harden, and her expression sink, and her dark eyes sink into her cheeks, and she was trying very hard not to cry.

“I’m only joking of course,” he said.

“Yes, of course.”


On Valentines Day, Jeremy arranged for a bouquet of roses to be sent to Lucy at her work, even though he’d never done so before, and had even had talks with her about how tacky a practice he thought it was. He remembered his days back when he was temping, and he remembered how unoriginal and uninspired it seemed when women received these silly bouquets at the office. He remembered all the pettiness, and flat congratulations from the single women in the office, and it just made him wince to think back to the life of office politics.But, he sent Lucy roses all the same.

Valentines Day was a bright, crisp, cold sunny day, and just like every other day, he walked his way down to the café. The whole way there his heart raced. He would be spending Valentines Day with Maria! You will never live my life. Yeah, Kimble, fuck you too.

When he got to the café, he took his usual seat, and looked around. Something was wrong: Maria was usually waiting for him; she’d greet him at his seat, with, “Hello Mister Writer.” But today he didn’t see Maria anywhere. After sitting for a couple minutes, a young man, probably in his mid twenties came up to the table, and said: “May I take your order, sir?”

Jeremy looked around, flustered.

“Is there a problem, sir?”

“I’m – I’m a regular here. You must be new. I’ve never seen you before.”

“No, I just usually work weekend shifts. Been here a little while actually. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Where’s Maria?”

“Excuse me?”

“Maria. The girl who works here on the weekdays?” Pause. And then it occurred to him: Of course, Valentines Day. Why would Maria spend Valentines Day anywhere but with Kimble? “Listen, I’m sorry. It’s nothing. I – I was just expecting Maria. That’s all.”

“Oh, her.” The waiter laughed. “What a flake!”


“Maria quit this morning.”

Maria quit this morning?

“What do you mean she quit?”

“She just up and quit. She didn’t come in or anything. The manager said she called here this morning in all sorts of hysterics. He could barely make out what the hell she was talking about; but that’s that. She said she quit and would never come back to the café again. Boyfriend trouble, maybe. Fucking Valentines Day, man.”

“Maria quit this morning?”

“So, can I get you anything?”

Jeremy felt dizzy. “A whisky. A whisky, and a copy of today’s paper.”

“Right away.”

What happened? Had Kimble broken things off with her? Another woman, maybe? These things always happened on Valentines Day… Should he try to get her phone number from the waiter? His thoughts were going faster than he could catch them. Slow down. Think this through. It had to be Kimble broke it off. Just like that scumbag. On Valentines Day, too, of all days. Maybe it was unavoidable; maybe the other woman showed up unexpectedly; maybe Maria showed up unexpectedly somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be. Whatever it was he’d find out. He’d get Maria’s number from the waiter, and he’d call her, and they’d go somewhere and have a drink, and he’d make sure she was taken care of, and he’d leave Lucy if he had to and be with Maria and they could spend afternoons at some other café together, where he could write and where she could read, and –

“You know what,” the waiter said, coming back to the table. “I’d bet my bottom dollar it has something to do with this.”

He threw down a copy of the New York Times, opened to the Entertainment section. The caption read, “AWARD WINNING AUTHOR MARTIN KIMBLE ANNOUNCES ENGAGEMENT TO ACTRESS.”

Jeremy looked back up at the waiter. “I didn’t know Maria was an actress.”

“Maria? An actress?” The waiter looked confused. “I don’t think Maria was an actress. What – you didn’t think -?” and then he started laughing.

“What? What in God’s name is so funny?”

“Oh, no no no no no. Maria was batty about this guy. Just adored him. In a creepy kind of way even. All she ever talked about was Martin Kimble this, Martin Kimble that. I’m sure she dreamt one day she’d marry him, but it’s not like she ever even met the guy. I’m sure this must’ve crushed her. Like I said, she was sort of flaky.” Pause. “You all set here? Can I get you anything else?”

“No. No. Just the check.”

As Jeremy collected his things, he thought about the long cold walk back uptown, and the long day ahead of him. He couldn’t write; he couldn’t think; he couldn’t do much of anything, but wait. He flipped the page, and saw a photograph of Kimble hand in hand with his fiancé. You’ll never have my life – and Jeremy realized that all along he’d been in love with a chimera; in fact, like Maria, he always had been, his whole life long. And there was nothing left now but to go home and wait for Lucy.


-Whit Frazier, 2007

Are Donald Trump Supporters Racist?

Everyone knows that you’re supposed to avoid the political talk during Thanksgiving. It’s that awkward holiday when the young people come back home from big, cosmopolitan cities to middle America, and as the stereotype goes, inevitably end up in loud arguments with the highly conservative uncle who still works a blue-collar job back home. It’s a helpful stereotype only for the reason that it helps us look at the way our country is divided between blue and red states, between urban and rural areas, and between wealthier and poorer communities. The unfortunate way that America relies on only two major political parties generally ends up splitting our country into two factions, even though everyone knows there is plenty of room for a much wider spectrum of political thought. Very few of us are 100% Democrat or 100% Republican. Obama, recognizing this in 2008, promised to be the president of change; the president who could bridge the gap between these two worlds, and find common ground for all Americans.

Unfortunately, Obama did not become the president of all Americans. Very much a product of the wealthy, elite blue-state mentality, he easily fell into the traditional center-left political thinking that is pretty much Bill Clinton’s legacy. Admittedly, he also had the additional problem that the Republicans in Washington vowed to say an emphatic “no” to everything that he proposed. Campaign promises that Obama made, such as a healthcare package with no obligatory mandate quickly turned into Hilary Clinton’s healthcare proposal, one with an obligatory mandate, an argument that had been of great contention between them in the primaries; although Obama did much to save the economy in the wake of the economic crash he inherited, the trade agreements put in place by the Clintons, like the 1994 NAFTA agreement, agreements which left many American communities behind, were left unchallenged by an Obama administration. On foreign policy, drone bombings and NSA wiretapping did little to make Obama seem more than anything other than another establishment president, one whose calls for change had been nothing more than a campaign swindle.

So much has been made about how many of Trump’s supporters were responding to these conditions when they cast their votes earlier this month. But there is still the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign; there is the history of racism in Donald Trump’s behavior, from denying housing to African Americans to the racist birther attacks of 2008; there was the refusal to denounce David Duke during the campaign; there is the predictable spike in hate crimes since his election; there is his cabinet, which looks something like a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. So can we say unequivocally that everyone who voted for Trump, given all this much documented information, is racist? Even though many of these people voted for Obama in 2008? Even though many of these people have friends who are minorities, and some of them are even minorities themselves? How do we understand this paradox?

I think the question has to be restructured. The essential thing is how much someone is willing to tolerate, even in the promotion of what they consider to be (erroneously, in this case) their own best interest. And a lot of Americans said at the polls, that they would be able to tolerate this kind of blatant racism from the White House, if there was hope that conditions in their lives might improve. It is not so much that they themselves are necessarily white nationalists (although we’ve seen that, predictably, a lot of white nationalists did vote for Trump), but that they simply are willing to accept a certain amount of racism from their government. Which is to say that racism is not an either/or phenomenon. One isn’t either racist or not racist, rather there are gradations of how much negativity against another group one will accept, and many of Trump’s supporters fall somewhere on the scale where they are perfectly willing to accept the racist rhetoric and racist actions of a Donald Trump. This makes them “indifferent honest.” We have seen this argument already from Hannah Arendt, when she argues for the banality of evil. As Arendt tells us, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” They simply react to what they believe to be in their best interest at the time, no matter how much evil their reaction creates.

This is a problem which I think liberals and progressives will have to address when mobilizing for the future, something we desperately need to do, and indeed have been doing, after the election of Donald Trump. Yes, Trump’s supporters supported racism with their votes, even if they many of them didn’t intend the act to be a racist act in itself; they never actually made up their minds about how they feel about the evils of racism; they haven’t investigated their own feelings about minorities deeply enough to know their own true feelings about racism. So, while they may give lip service that, in principle, they are against racism, they allow themselves to be asleep to its reality. And that makes them complicit in racism by default.


-Whit Frazier, November 25, 2016


These days I spend most of my life in books. Not novels or histories or biographies, but autobiographies, journals from the past. Maybe I’m just waiting to die, trying to relive my life as many times as possible before I can’t relive it anymore. Maybe this is what they mean when they talk about eternal recurrence; reliving life over and over. Because when life comes to a close, you relive it over and over one way or another, whether it’s in journals or memories or maybe even make believe.

The journals turn my life into fragments. I kept them sporadically; nostalgically. Times when I thought I would have experiences worth remembering. This one right here I’ve been reading and re-reading for the past few nights. It’s turned my present into the presence of a prescient past. It covers a period of three months, it’s the three months I spent studying Steiner in Stuttgart. It was supposed to be three years, but things didn’t quite work out the way they – what does Ray Bradbury say ? – life gets in the way. The notebook begins with impressions; I was an impressionistic writer in my youth, but these days I find I’m more contemplative, I write:

Spring, Stuttgart, small town, long rolling hills, stairs winding through the city, walking downtown and through the west part of town, walking north up the hill, lonely as a cloud through the park.

I don’t remember these things now, or if I remember them, I remember them narratively, or not so much impressionistically.

The institute was in the north part of the city, in a large building on a hill overlooking the town. From the top of the building you could see those rolling hills of the city roll down into the valley where the city stills, and then rolls back up again into vineyards surrounded by sun. The sun comes pale through the clouds and then sifts through the fog hanging over the city, and I spent a lot of time in that room talking to S. about Steiner’s ideas, about ideas of eternal recurrence, about ideas of spiritual enlightenment, waking up, and waking up in order not to die.

“I’ve died many times,” S. would say, “and I’ve been back again many times, and it took me a long time to learn that the way not to die was to close my eyes.”

“What do you mean close your eyes?”

“When you’re ready.”

When you’re ready. This was what S. would always say. I didn’t know what that meant, and I loved the feeling of not knowing what it meant, wondering when I would be ready. I would walk down the hill into the city. I didn’t speak any German, but it didn’t matter; everyone spoke English. Whenever I tried my German on the people in the city, they would switch to English, and then my ego would get in the way, and it made it very hard to make close friendships. Nothing isolates like language. Or maybe nothing brings people together like a common language, and so language and thinking must have some sort of relationship like lovers.

The notebooks have some of my early clumsy attempts at writing in German. It makes me wince to read them now. Not that my German is any better, if anything it’s worse, because I haven’t been back since, but I continued to study it over the years, and if I’m not able anymore to converse with any fluency, I can spot mistakes much more easily; living through books has its advantages and disadvantages; it’s knowledge; it’s life even; but it’s also illusion.

When you’re ready. I studied Steiner nightly. I tried to read him in the original. I think I liked reading him in the original because it felt like decoding a text, and made the text feel more sacred in that sense. I also think I liked not really knowing what he was saying, because some of the things he says are pretty awful, and maybe that’s what S. meant when he said — when you’re ready. Because sometimes being ready means being gullible enough not to be ready to set your defenses, and defenses are those sleepy senses that keep you from being ready to be duped.

There was an African film director I met there; although he grew up in Lyons, and was born in Nigeria. He’d been in Germany for 20 years, had come with his parents and had never left again. Was just as much German as French as African I guess; he had gone through all those stages, and he would talk about France And Nigeria in this wistful far away kind of way like he was conjuring past lives. His film were always impressionistic. Films about migrancy, displacement, estrangement, always evoked through setting:

Spring, Stuttgart, small town, long rolling hills, stairs winding through the city, walking downtown and through the west part of town, walking north up the hill, lonely as a cloud through the park.

When you’re ready.

One morning S. and I sat looking over Stuttgart in that top floor room on that building on that hill, and he looked over at me, and he said, “I think you’re ready.”

Defenses are those sleepy senses that keep you from being ready to be duped. I sat there in that room looking over the city of Stuttgart, listening to S. explicate Steiner’s ideas of eternal recurrence, talking about his previous lives, about his life as an African, his life as an Asian, his life as a German, his life now, beyond all those stages, and he looked at me, and I looked at him, and I think I understood something pretty awful about what he meant about being ready, and suddenly I realized I would never be ready, because I was not yet ready to be duped.

I stood up slow, waked over to the window. Nothing isolates like language, or maybe nothing brings people together like a shared language. The fog over the city settled, the sun sifting through the thick, I wandered lonely as a cloud. I closed my eyes, and I realized it was time for me to go home. I had only been there three months, and it was already time to go home. I thought about New York; the — what do we say? — the hustle the bustle – the hustle the hustle — and I thought about how long and lonely life is, even around those that share your language; especially around those that share your language, and I reminisced about a time when I would be old, when I would be old and ready and could reminisce back on my life in the quiet cadences of death’s unlonely, lovely language. As always. As now.

-Whit Frazier, September 2016